Russian journalist put on “terrorist” list over radio commentary

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Russia’s arbitrary decision to add radio journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva to its official list of “terrorists and extremists” without any form of trial and urges the authorities to drop all proceedings against her. Russia’s growing use of terrorism laws against critical journalists is very worrying.Svetlana Prokopyeva is innocent!SIGN THE PETITION

Based in the northwestern city of Pskov, Prokopyeva learned that she had been placed on the “terrorists and extremists” list when she discovered on 4 July that her bank accounts had been blocked and that her passport was going to be confiscated.

The police began investigating Prokopyeva in February on suspicion of “justifying terrorism” in a radio commentary last November. They searched her home and the local branch of the independent Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy, for which she works, but they have so far not charged her. The former editor of Pskovskaya Gubernya, she is well known in Pskov and also works for the US radio station Radio Svoboda,

In the offending radio commentary, broadcast on 7 November, Prokopyeva wondered what had driven a 17-year-old anarchist to blow himself up outside the entrance to the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the White Sea port city of Arkhangelsk a week before.

Without at any point voicing approval of this suicide-bombing, she suggested that it was the result of the lack of freedom in Russia, which made political activism impossible and had created a citizen “unable to find any other mode of communication.” Ekho Moskvy and the local news site Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei posted transcripts of her commentary online but took them down after being given heavy fines.

“Investigating Svetlana Prokopyeva was already absurd but labelling her as a terrorist without reference to the courts is deeply unjust,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the authorities to close this case and remove this journalist’s name from their blacklist at once. Restricting the scope of Russia’s terrorism legislation is absolutely vital in order to protect free speech and avoid criminalizing the expression of opinions.”

The Prokopyeva investigation is an example of the growing use of terrorism legislation to silence outspoken journalists. The authorities have tried of late to contain a dramatic rise in the number of convictions for “extremism.” But a broader wording of the law on inciting or justifying terrorism or terrorism propaganda (article 205.2 of the criminal code) has led to an increase in prosecutions since taking effect in April 2018. Victor Korb, a journalist accused of terrorist propaganda for transcribing and publishing the text of a speech that an opposition activist gave at his trial, announced on 1 March that he was leaving the country.

Placing suspects on the list of “terrorists and extremists” without reference to the courts is common in Russia. It has happened to several journalists in recent years, especially in Crimea after its annexation in 2014. Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 17.09.2019